Cookies help us run our site more efficiently.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information or to customize your cookie preferences.

The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits?

News Feed
Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an array of programs aimed at helping farmers grow food that supports rural communities and the environment, but its own purchasing has long revolved around sourcing the cheapest foods available. Last week, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that could transform the agency’s food purchasing processes, directing the USDA to seek out not just the most affordable foods but also to consider factors including supply chain resiliency, environmental impact, and labor policies when deciding which companies are on the receiving end of the billions of dollars it spends on food each year. “USDA has an opportunity to use its sizable purchasing power to address our agriculture sector’s compounding crisis of agri-business consolidation, climate change, and worker mistreatment,” said Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), a lead sponsor of the bill in a press release. Called the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, Markey’s proposal follows another bill, the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act, introduced by John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) in September. After a ramp-up period, Fetterman’s legislation would require the USDA to purchase at least 20 percent of its meat and poultry from small and mid-sized processors and to prioritize contracts with regional producers, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and companies that have fair labor agreements in place. Both pieces of legislation, which face long odds of getting included in next year’s farm bill, represent a push to better use federal purchasing power to accelerate progress on goals that the Biden administration has stated are key to its policy vision, including climate action, equity, and improving competition and resilience. And they’re linked to a larger movement to shift institutional and government food purchasing that has taken root in cities and states around the country, said Chloe Waterman, the senior program manager of the climate friendly food program at the nonprofit Friends of the Earth. The organization is one of several environmental, food, and farm groups that joined forces to create the Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition about a year ago. “We got together and said, ‘We now have a decade’s worth of proof-of-concept for this idea of values-aligned food procurement. The federal government is a way bigger player than any of the cities or municipalities or school districts that we’re working with. So, how can we bring this strategy to the federal level?’” she said. The coalition released its first report earlier this month, which traces how the government spent nearly $17 billion on food in two separate years, 2019 and 2022. And it found that despite an executive order directing agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions in procurement, another addressing consolidation, and hundreds of millions of dollars granted to small and mid-size farms and processors over the past few years, the government isn’t exactly putting its money where its mouth is. According to the analysis, the USDA is by far the largest purchaser within the federal government, with programs for school meals, domestic hunger, and foreign aid accounting for more than half of total government food spending. In 2022, USDA spent nearly half of its food dollars with just 25 vendors, several of which represent the same multinational food companies the Biden administration has called out for exploiting American farmers. The USDA spent the most money—6 percent of its total purchases, or $270 million—on food from Cargill, which is the country’s largest private company and has long been accused of creating unfair markets for farmers and perpetuating deforestation in South America. Tyson, recently the subject of a major child labor investigation, took in $248 million, including 43 percent of dollars spent on poultry and was among the top five beneficiaries of spending on pork. Interestingly, the largest contracts for beef did not go to any of the country’s biggest meatpackers, although some of the companies are processors that could be sourcing animals from slaughter facilities owned by the big four. (The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would also require the USDA to provide more transparency around its purchasing.) While it wouldn’t affect numbers from the past, the agency did recently commit to only buying red meat from cattle raised in the U.S. But that won’t impact its relationship with JBS USA, a subsidiary of the Brazilian meat giant. In 2022, the USDA spent more than $60 million on pork and chicken from JBS and its poultry company, Pilgrim’s Pride. More than a year ago, lawmakers asked the USDA to end contracts with the company based on accusations of criminal behavior, including bribing government officials and using child labor in its supply chain. However, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined, stating that it would “potentially impair” the agency’s ability to secure affordable food. To Waterman, that is precisely why change is necessary. “If we can’t even cut out or suspend purchasing from one vendor who’s a particularly bad actor, what does that say about like the resiliency of that supply chain and the lack of diversification in it?” she said. To illustrate the alternative approach, when Senator Fetterman introduced his bill to diversify the USDA’s meat purchasing, groups supporting the legislation created a map that showed the hundreds of small and mid-size processors that could be tapped instead. Many of those businesses recently received grants from USDA to expand and/or stay open. A map of the small and mid-sized processors that could supply the USDA with its meat needs. The report also analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from USDA purchasing and concluded that shifting more dollars toward plant-based foods (pulses, including beans, lentils, and tofu are a particularly tiny slice of current purchasing) could provide a variety of benefits that match the administration’s priorities. For example, it found that replacing 50 percent of beef purchases with plant-based proteins would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, land use by 16 percent, water use by 5 percent, and costs by 2 percent. “Our analysis included this cost element to show that you can reduce emissions and save . . . while also achieving benefits along every metric that we included,” Waterman said. To date, more than 200 organizations have endorsed the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, while 65 have endorsed the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act. But the bills are partisan, with no backing from Republicans. And with the farm bill process punted to next year and still no end in sight on the many spending bills Congress plans to pass, their future remains uncertain. That’s not to say that, if enough momentum built up, the agency couldn’t start to shift its purchases on its own, Waterman said. “Even just from the numbers that we found, it does appear that USDA is moving in the right direction, and they have stated that they share some of the goals of diversifying their supply chains,” she said. “I just don’t think that they’re doing it fast enough.” Read More: Biden Targets Consolidation in the Meat Industry (Again) Institutional Food Has a Sourcing Problem. This Coalition Is Trying to Fix It. How One Groundbreaking Set of Rules is Changing the Food System in L.A. Schools COP28 Kicks Off. Starting tomorrow, world leaders, experts, fossil fuel and agribusiness executives, civil society groups, and activists will officially convene in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for what is being billed as the first global climate summit to pay serious attention to food and agriculture’s role in the conversation. Because it’s also the first COP to be led by an oil company executive who is also using the gathering to strike oil and gas deals, it’s unclear whether it will result in the immediate, dramatic shifts away from fossil fuels that experts say are necessary to curb catastrophic climate outcomes. Last week, the Council of the European Union published a draft of the food systems declaration world leaders are expected to sign; it barely mentions greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and stops far short of getting countries to commit to concrete actions and targets to reduce those emissions. “Anything that does not address emissions at this point is really a disappointment and a cop out,” said Wanjira Mathai, managing director for Africa and global partnerships at the World Resources Institute, during a recent media briefing. The briefing included a panel of experts who said one of their top priorities would be ensuring that small-scale and Indigenous farmers from around the world are given adequate resources and represented in the conversations around food production. A report earlier this month found that while small, family farms produce a third of the world’s food, they have received less than 1 percent of international financing aimed at expanding climate-smart agriculture. Anna Lappé, executive director of the Global Alliance for Future of Food (and a member of the Civil Eats advisory board), said that her group was seeing “a worrying uptick” in food and agrichemical companies putting money into lobbying and public relations campaigns to try to steer the narrative toward what many experts and advocates see as false food-and-climate solutions. “The challenge will be to ensure that vested interests from the energy, food, and agrochemical sectors don’t undermine calls for real solutions,” she said. “We cannot address the planetary crisis without tackling food system emissions, and we can’t phase out fossil fuels without transforming food systems.” Read More: Will a Food and Ag Focus at COP28 Distract From the Fossil Fuel Economy? The IPCC’s Latest Climate Report Is a Final Alarm for Food Systems, Too Is Agroecology Being Coopted by Big Ag? Avoiding the Next Dust Bowl. Sand and dust storms are becoming much more frequent due to climate change, accompanying droughts, and poor land and water management, and two billion tons of sand and dust now enters the atmosphere every year as a result, according to the United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). During a five-day meeting, UNCDD experts released three reports on the storms, one of which is specific to agriculture and includes information on how to reduce its role in desertification and the creation of dust and to minimize impacts on farms. Dust storms have been increasing in frequency and severity in dry western states, and agriculture can contribute to them by leaving fields bare between crops and tilling the soil. In May, dust from tilled farm fields caused a storm in Illinois that led to a 72-car crash in which seven people died. The storms can also destroy crops and harm livestock. Read More: Dust is a Growing Problem. What Role Does Farmland Play? To Prevent the Next Dust Bowl, Give Soil a Chance Unfair Trade. A new report published by Corporate Accountability Lab, an organization that holds businesses accountable for human rights and environmental abuses, shines a light on abuse faced by farmworkers in Mexico—even while working on farms growing certified “responsible” produce. To gather data, food anthropologist James Daria conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews with workers in Mexico’s San Quintín Valley employed by berry farms selling to Driscoll’s and the company that produces the Good Farms and Heritage brands sold at Costco. While the farms were certified by Fair Trade USA and the Equitable Food Initiative, Daria found incidents of forced labor and widespread violations of policies on sexual harassment, wage theft, and retaliation. The workers themselves described the conditions as “21st century slavery.” Annual audits required by the certifying bodies often failed to reveal the system’s shortcomings. Read More: Does Your Food Label Guarantee Fair Farmworkers’ Rights? Why Aren’t Federal Agencies Enforcing Pesticide Rules That Protect Farmworkers? The post The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits? appeared first on Civil Eats.

Last week, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that could transform the agency’s food purchasing processes, directing the USDA to seek out not just the most affordable foods but also to consider factors including supply chain resiliency, environmental impact, and labor policies when deciding which companies are on the receiving end of […] The post The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits? appeared first on Civil Eats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an array of programs aimed at helping farmers grow food that supports rural communities and the environment, but its own purchasing has long revolved around sourcing the cheapest foods available.

Last week, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that could transform the agency’s food purchasing processes, directing the USDA to seek out not just the most affordable foods but also to consider factors including supply chain resiliency, environmental impact, and labor policies when deciding which companies are on the receiving end of the billions of dollars it spends on food each year.

“USDA has an opportunity to use its sizable purchasing power to address our agriculture sector’s compounding crisis of agri-business consolidation, climate change, and worker mistreatment,” said Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), a lead sponsor of the bill in a press release.

Called the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, Markey’s proposal follows another bill, the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act, introduced by John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) in September. After a ramp-up period, Fetterman’s legislation would require the USDA to purchase at least 20 percent of its meat and poultry from small and mid-sized processors and to prioritize contracts with regional producers, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and companies that have fair labor agreements in place.

Both pieces of legislation, which face long odds of getting included in next year’s farm bill, represent a push to better use federal purchasing power to accelerate progress on goals that the Biden administration has stated are key to its policy vision, including climate action, equity, and improving competition and resilience.

And they’re linked to a larger movement to shift institutional and government food purchasing that has taken root in cities and states around the country, said Chloe Waterman, the senior program manager of the climate friendly food program at the nonprofit Friends of the Earth. The organization is one of several environmental, food, and farm groups that joined forces to create the Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition about a year ago.

“We got together and said, ‘We now have a decade’s worth of proof-of-concept for this idea of values-aligned food procurement. The federal government is a way bigger player than any of the cities or municipalities or school districts that we’re working with. So, how can we bring this strategy to the federal level?’” she said.

The coalition released its first report earlier this month, which traces how the government spent nearly $17 billion on food in two separate years, 2019 and 2022. And it found that despite an executive order directing agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions in procurement, another addressing consolidation, and hundreds of millions of dollars granted to small and mid-size farms and processors over the past few years, the government isn’t exactly putting its money where its mouth is.

According to the analysis, the USDA is by far the largest purchaser within the federal government, with programs for school meals, domestic hunger, and foreign aid accounting for more than half of total government food spending. In 2022, USDA spent nearly half of its food dollars with just 25 vendors, several of which represent the same multinational food companies the Biden administration has called out for exploiting American farmers.

The USDA spent the most money—6 percent of its total purchases, or $270 million—on food from Cargill, which is the country’s largest private company and has long been accused of creating unfair markets for farmers and perpetuating deforestation in South America. Tyson, recently the subject of a major child labor investigation, took in $248 million, including 43 percent of dollars spent on poultry and was among the top five beneficiaries of spending on pork.

Interestingly, the largest contracts for beef did not go to any of the country’s biggest meatpackers, although some of the companies are processors that could be sourcing animals from slaughter facilities owned by the big four. (The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would also require the USDA to provide more transparency around its purchasing.) While it wouldn’t affect numbers from the past, the agency did recently commit to only buying red meat from cattle raised in the U.S.

But that won’t impact its relationship with JBS USA, a subsidiary of the Brazilian meat giant. In 2022, the USDA spent more than $60 million on pork and chicken from JBS and its poultry company, Pilgrim’s Pride. More than a year ago, lawmakers asked the USDA to end contracts with the company based on accusations of criminal behavior, including bribing government officials and using child labor in its supply chain. However, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined, stating that it would “potentially impair” the agency’s ability to secure affordable food.

To Waterman, that is precisely why change is necessary.

“If we can’t even cut out or suspend purchasing from one vendor who’s a particularly bad actor, what does that say about like the resiliency of that supply chain and the lack of diversification in it?” she said. To illustrate the alternative approach, when Senator Fetterman introduced his bill to diversify the USDA’s meat purchasing, groups supporting the legislation created a map that showed the hundreds of small and mid-size processors that could be tapped instead. Many of those businesses recently received grants from USDA to expand and/or stay open.

Volunteers from DTE Energy pack prepackaged boxes for delivery to churches and homebound seniors at Focus: HOPE, a local agency located in Detroit, Michigan that operates the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) in a client choice model so that participants can select the foods they want. (Photo credit: Preston Keres, USDA)

A map of the small and mid-sized processors that could supply the USDA with its meat needs.

The report also analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from USDA purchasing and concluded that shifting more dollars toward plant-based foods (pulses, including beans, lentils, and tofu are a particularly tiny slice of current purchasing) could provide a variety of benefits that match the administration’s priorities. For example, it found that replacing 50 percent of beef purchases with plant-based proteins would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, land use by 16 percent, water use by 5 percent, and costs by 2 percent.

“Our analysis included this cost element to show that you can reduce emissions and save . . . while also achieving benefits along every metric that we included,” Waterman said.

To date, more than 200 organizations have endorsed the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, while 65 have endorsed the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act. But the bills are partisan, with no backing from Republicans. And with the farm bill process punted to next year and still no end in sight on the many spending bills Congress plans to pass, their future remains uncertain.

That’s not to say that, if enough momentum built up, the agency couldn’t start to shift its purchases on its own, Waterman said. “Even just from the numbers that we found, it does appear that USDA is moving in the right direction, and they have stated that they share some of the goals of diversifying their supply chains,” she said. “I just don’t think that they’re doing it fast enough.”

Read More:
Biden Targets Consolidation in the Meat Industry (Again)
Institutional Food Has a Sourcing Problem. This Coalition Is Trying to Fix It.
How One Groundbreaking Set of Rules is Changing the Food System in L.A. Schools

COP28 Kicks Off. Starting tomorrow, world leaders, experts, fossil fuel and agribusiness executives, civil society groups, and activists will officially convene in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for what is being billed as the first global climate summit to pay serious attention to food and agriculture’s role in the conversation. Because it’s also the first COP to be led by an oil company executive who is also using the gathering to strike oil and gas deals, it’s unclear whether it will result in the immediate, dramatic shifts away from fossil fuels that experts say are necessary to curb catastrophic climate outcomes.

Last week, the Council of the European Union published a draft of the food systems declaration world leaders are expected to sign; it barely mentions greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and stops far short of getting countries to commit to concrete actions and targets to reduce those emissions. “Anything that does not address emissions at this point is really a disappointment and a cop out,” said Wanjira Mathai, managing director for Africa and global partnerships at the World Resources Institute, during a recent media briefing.

The briefing included a panel of experts who said one of their top priorities would be ensuring that small-scale and Indigenous farmers from around the world are given adequate resources and represented in the conversations around food production. A report earlier this month found that while small, family farms produce a third of the world’s food, they have received less than 1 percent of international financing aimed at expanding climate-smart agriculture.

Anna Lappé, executive director of the Global Alliance for Future of Food (and a member of the Civil Eats advisory board), said that her group was seeing “a worrying uptick” in food and agrichemical companies putting money into lobbying and public relations campaigns to try to steer the narrative toward what many experts and advocates see as false food-and-climate solutions. “The challenge will be to ensure that vested interests from the energy, food, and agrochemical sectors don’t undermine calls for real solutions,” she said. “We cannot address the planetary crisis without tackling food system emissions, and we can’t phase out fossil fuels without transforming food systems.”

Read More:
Will a Food and Ag Focus at COP28 Distract From the Fossil Fuel Economy?
The IPCC’s Latest Climate Report Is a Final Alarm for Food Systems, Too
Is Agroecology Being Coopted by Big Ag?

Avoiding the Next Dust Bowl. Sand and dust storms are becoming much more frequent due to climate change, accompanying droughts, and poor land and water management, and two billion tons of sand and dust now enters the atmosphere every year as a result, according to the United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). During a five-day meeting, UNCDD experts released three reports on the storms, one of which is specific to agriculture and includes information on how to reduce its role in desertification and the creation of dust and to minimize impacts on farms. Dust storms have been increasing in frequency and severity in dry western states, and agriculture can contribute to them by leaving fields bare between crops and tilling the soil. In May, dust from tilled farm fields caused a storm in Illinois that led to a 72-car crash in which seven people died. The storms can also destroy crops and harm livestock.

Read More:
Dust is a Growing Problem. What Role Does Farmland Play?
To Prevent the Next Dust Bowl, Give Soil a Chance

Unfair Trade. A new report published by Corporate Accountability Lab, an organization that holds businesses accountable for human rights and environmental abuses, shines a light on abuse faced by farmworkers in Mexico—even while working on farms growing certified “responsible” produce. To gather data, food anthropologist James Daria conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews with workers in Mexico’s San Quintín Valley employed by berry farms selling to Driscoll’s and the company that produces the Good Farms and Heritage brands sold at Costco. While the farms were certified by Fair Trade USA and the Equitable Food Initiative, Daria found incidents of forced labor and widespread violations of policies on sexual harassment, wage theft, and retaliation. The workers themselves described the conditions as “21st century slavery.” Annual audits required by the certifying bodies often failed to reveal the system’s shortcomings.

Read More:
Does Your Food Label Guarantee Fair Farmworkers’ Rights?
Why Aren’t Federal Agencies Enforcing Pesticide Rules That Protect Farmworkers?

The post The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits? appeared first on Civil Eats.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Potassium Depletion: The Invisible Threat to Global Food Security

Research reveals a global threat to food security from potassium deficiency in soils, highlighting the imbalance between potassium removal and replenishment, the critical role of...

Potassium deficiency in soils presents a significant risk to global food security, with economic and environmental concerns necessitating global assessment and sustainable management strategies.Research reveals a global threat to food security from potassium deficiency in soils, highlighting the imbalance between potassium removal and replenishment, the critical role of potassium in crop yields, and the need for sustainable management and policy coordination.Potassium deficiency in agricultural soils is a largely unrecognized but potentially significant threat to global food security if left unaddressed, finds new research involving researchers at UCL, University of Edinburgh, and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.The study, published today (February 19) in Nature Food, found that more potassium is being removed from agricultural soils than is being added, throughout many regions of the world. It also gives a series of recommendations for how to mitigate the issue. Potassium is a vital nutrient for plant growth that helps with photosynthesis and respiration, the lack of which can inhibit plant growth and reduce crop yields. Farmers often spread potassium-rich fertilizers over their fields to replenish the depleted nutrient, but supply issues can inhibit its use, and there are lingering questions about its environmental impact.The researchers report that globally, about 20% of agricultural soils face severe potassium deficiency, with particular regions likely to experience more critical shortages, including 44% of agricultural soils in South-East Asia, 39% in Latin America, 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 20% in East Asia, largely due to more intensive agricultural practices.Co-author Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography) said: “Potassium is critical to sustaining the crop yields that keep the world fed, and its depletion poses a significant threat to the food security of millions of people around the world. This is an overlooked issue that needs to be addressed with a range of actions as the world population continues to grow.”Farmers often rely on potash as a fertilizer to replenish their field’s potassium, but the price of the mineral can be quite volatile. Potash production is highly concentrated, with just twelve countries dominating the nearly £12 billion international market for potassium fertilizers, with Canada, Russia, Belarus, and China producing 80% of the world’s total raw potash.The researchers highlight how in April 2022, the price of potash increased 500% above the previous year following a “perfect storm” of factors, including rising fertilizer demand, escalating fuel prices, recovery from the pandemic, a range of government actions around the world, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia and Belarus together export about 42% of the world’s potash supply, but following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the UK, US, Canada, and the EU imposed import sanctions on the two countries, disrupting global supplies and exacerbating the price spike.Since the initial price spike, the cost of potash has fallen by about 50%, but remains elevated, raising concerns that farmers will not be able to access sufficient fertilizer to maintain food supplies under the current system.Co-author Dr Peter Alexander of the University of Edinburgh said: “The volatility of potash prices has major implications across the global food system. Access to potassium is vital for farmers to maintain their crop yields, but the recent high cost of potash makes it more difficult for the most vulnerable to obtain.”This market concentration and vulnerability is one of the reasons the researchers have called for better potassium management and a robust intergovernmental coordination mechanism. Currently, there are no national or international policies or regulations governing the sustainable management of soil potassium akin to the systems that are being established for other vital crop nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.In 2021, global potash consumption reached 45 million tonnes, with global production projected to rise to about 69 million tonnes in 2025 with new projects starting up in Belarus, Canada, Russia, Australia, Eritrea, and the UK. However, potash mining has raised human rights concerns and has significant impacts on the environment. Potash mining generates millions of tonnes of refuse mostly composed of sodium chloride salts, which can leach into soils and salinize soil and water tables, harming plants and animals.The impacts of potassium fertilizer runoff into local ecosystems are poorly understood, and the researchers recommend more studies about its effects.Lead author Will Brownlie of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “The environmental impact of potash mining and use in agriculture is something that needs greater scrutiny. There’s much that we still don’t understand about the effects that artificial potassium enrichment has on nearby ecosystems. By wisely handling nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium together, we can reap multiple benefits, prevent pollution, boost crop yields, and minimize nutrient loss. It’s about coordinating our approach for better farming outcomes.”The researchers put forward six recommendations for policies and practices to prevent potential crop yield declines, safeguard farmers from price volatility, and address environmental concerns. The recommendations include:Setting up a global assessment of current potassium stocks and flows to identify the most at-risk countries and regionsEstablishing national capabilities for monitoring, predicting, and responding to potassium price fluctuationsHelping farmers maintain sufficient soil potassium levels with further research about the yield implications of limited potassium in various crops and soilsEvaluating the environmental effects of potash mining and developing sustainable application practicesDeveloping a global circular potassium economy that minimizes the use and maximizes the reuse and recycling of the nutrientIncreasing intergovernmental cooperation through the UN and other agencies to develop global policy coordination akin to what’s been developed for nitrogenReference: “Global Food Security Threatened by Potassium Neglect” by Will J. Brownlie, Peter Alexander, Mark Maslin, Miguel Cañedo-Argüelles, Mark A. Sutton and Bryan M. Spears, 19 February 2024, Nature Food.DOI: 10.1038/s43016-024-00929-8

California Is Forging Ahead With Food Waste Recycling. but Is It Too Much, Too Fast?

Two years after California launched an effort to keep organic waste out of landfills, the state is behind on getting food recycling programs up and running

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (AP) — Two years after California launched an effort to keep organic waste out of landfills, the state is so far behind on getting food recycling programs up and running that it's widely accepted next year's ambitious waste-reduction targets won't be met.Over time, food scraps and other organic materials like yard waste emit methane, a gas more potent and damaging in the short-term than carbon emissions from fossil fuels. California's goal is to keep that waste from piling up in landfills, instead turning it into compost or biogas. Everything from banana peels and used coffee grounds to yard waste and soiled paper products like pizza boxes counts as organic waste. Households and businesses are now supposed to sort that material into a different bin.But it has been hard to change people's behavior in such a short period of time and cities were delayed setting up contracts to haul organic waste due to the pandemic. In Southern California, the nation’s largest facility to convert food waste into biogas has filed for bankruptcy because it’s not getting enough of the organic material.“We’re way behind on implementation,” said Coby Skye, the recently retired deputy director for environmental services at Los Angeles County Public Works. “In America, for better or worse, we want convenience, and it’s very difficult to spend a lot of time and effort educating people about separation.”Meanwhile, some communities that ramped up collection now have more compost than they know what to do with, a sign that more challenges are yet to come as the nation's most populous state plows ahead with its recycling plans. Only a handful of states mandate organics recycling, and none are running a program as large as California’s, which seeks to slash by 75% the amount of organic waste it sends to landfills by 2025 from 2014 levels.Reaching that goal within a year would be a stretch, experts said.About three-quarters of communities are currently collecting organic waste from homes, said Rachel Machi Wagoner, CalRecycle’s director. While some places are lagging, her aim isn't to punish them but to help them get started, adding that every bit helps the state move towards its goal of reducing emissions.“My goal is about figuring out where the challenges are and getting us as quickly as possible to success," she said.“I don't know when we will reach our 75% goal, but we will reach it," she added.CalRecycle hasn't tallied data yet on how much organic waste was diverted from landfills in 2023. Jurisdictions reported diverting 11.2 million tons (10.1 million metric tons) of organics at the end of 2022, up from 9.9 million tons (8.9 million metric tons) the prior year, Wagoner said.Some challenges include getting residents on board with sorting their trash into a third bin and knowing what goes where. Others concern what to do with the nutrient-rich compost once it's been created from collected grass clippings, tree branches and food scraps.At Otay Landfill near the Mexican border, workers pick through heaps of branches and leaves to pull out plastic bits before the material is placed under tarps. The site processes 200 tons (181 metric tons) of organic waste daily and hopes to double that amount as more cities ramp up collection, said Gabe Gonzales, the landfill's operations manager.Once the compost is made, California's law requires cities to use much of it. But many say they don't have enough space to lay it all out. Chula Vista, a San Diego County city of 275,000 people, is supposed to use 14,000 tons (12,700 metric tons) of compost a year but uses a few thousand at best, said Manuel Medrano, the city's environmental services manager. Some is doled out in free compost giveaways for residents, while heaps of the material are stored in a fenced area of a local park.“To transport it is really expensive, to spread it is really expensive,” Medrano said. “We're nowhere near meeting that requirement."Communities with more open space might fare better. Cody Cain, head of marketing and sales for compost-maker Agromin, said his company has developed a plan to link cities struggling to meet these requirements with farmers who need the material for their soil."We basically are matchmakers. Call us the ‘Tinder' of compost, and we'll bring the farmer together with the city," Cain said.Food waste also can be converted into biogas to fuel vehicles or industrial operations. But a massive facility built three years ago in the Southern California city of Rialto now finds itself facing bankruptcy after Los Angeles was slow to ramp up collection, leaving the plant with insufficient waste, said Yaniv Scherson, chief operating officer for Anaergia Inc.“It's because the cities didn't enforce on time the market is struggling,” he said. “If it doesn’t get feedstock this year, there is a chance it shuts down completely.”LA Sanitation & Environment, which handles trash and recycling for the city of nearly 4 million people, had no immediate comment.Heidi Sanborn, founding director of the environmental National Stewardship Action Council, said she supports the state's law but wants more done to keep plastics out of compost and to develop alternative energy solutions. Some of California's challenges stem from the fact the state is trying to build a system on a scale the country hasn't seen, she said.“We're trying to fix incredibly tough problems. We're not going to find the perfect solution out of the gate," she said.But, Sanborn added, “we're on our way.”Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Imitation caviar: the future of eco-friendly packaging

Notpla, a London-based company, is revolutionizing packaging using seaweed, an eco-friendly alternative to plastic.Stephen Armstrong reports for WIRED.In short:Notpla, led by Pierre Paslier, utilizes seaweed to create biodegradable packaging for various products, including beverages and fast food.This innovative material grows rapidly without needing fresh water, land, or fertilizer, and it helps reduce carbon and ocean acidity.Notpla's journey began with edible drink containers for marathons, leading to sustainable solutions for takeout food containers and other products.Key quote:"We wanted to create something that would feel more like fruit; packaging that you could feel comes more from picking something from a tree than off a production line." — Pierre Paslier, CEO of NotplaWhy this matters:Notpla's seaweed-based packaging represents a significant stride in combating plastic pollution, crucial for preserving marine ecosystems and overall environmental health. This innovation aligns with global efforts to reduce waste and protect our planet, showcasing a practical and scalable solution to a pressing environmental challenge.Be sure to read: Food packaging can harm human health.

Notpla, a London-based company, is revolutionizing packaging using seaweed, an eco-friendly alternative to plastic.Stephen Armstrong reports for WIRED.In short:Notpla, led by Pierre Paslier, utilizes seaweed to create biodegradable packaging for various products, including beverages and fast food.This innovative material grows rapidly without needing fresh water, land, or fertilizer, and it helps reduce carbon and ocean acidity.Notpla's journey began with edible drink containers for marathons, leading to sustainable solutions for takeout food containers and other products.Key quote:"We wanted to create something that would feel more like fruit; packaging that you could feel comes more from picking something from a tree than off a production line." — Pierre Paslier, CEO of NotplaWhy this matters:Notpla's seaweed-based packaging represents a significant stride in combating plastic pollution, crucial for preserving marine ecosystems and overall environmental health. This innovation aligns with global efforts to reduce waste and protect our planet, showcasing a practical and scalable solution to a pressing environmental challenge.Be sure to read: Food packaging can harm human health.

Changing Food Systems Could Create Multi-Trillion Dollars of Economic Benefits Every Year

A new global policy report from the Food System Economics Commission (FSEC), authored by leading economists and scientists, reveals that worldwide changes in food systems...

A new report by the Food System Economics Commission highlights that transforming global food systems could yield socio-economic benefits of 5 to 10 trillion USD annually, surpassing the costs of such changes. It emphasizes the urgent need for policy overhaul in food systems, which currently cause more harm than good, and can potentially save millions of lives and mitigate climate impacts.A new global policy report from the Food System Economics Commission (FSEC), authored by leading economists and scientists, reveals that worldwide changes in food systems could result in socio-economic gains ranging between 5 and 10 trillion USD annually.The most ambitious and comprehensive study of food system economics so far underlines that food systems are currently destroying more value than they create and that an overhaul of food system policies is urgently needed. On the other hand, the cost of transformation would be much lower than the potential benefits, offering a better life to hundreds of millions of people.“The costs of inaction to transform the broken food system will probably exceed the estimates in this assessment, given that the world continues to rapidly move along an extremely dangerous path. It is likely that we will not only breach the 1.5°C limit, but also face decades of overshoot”, states Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and FSEC Principal. “The only way to return back to 1.5°C is to phase out fossil fuels, keep nature intact, and transform food systems from source to sink of greenhouse gases. The global food system thereby holds the future of humanity on Earth in its hand”, he adds. Food systems powerful means to potentially save 174 million lives from premature deathIn the report, the scientists provide the most comprehensive modeling of the impacts of two possible futures for the global food system to date: our `Current Trends’ pathway, and the `Food System Transformation’ pathway. In its `Current Trends´ pathway the report outlines what will happen by 2050, even if policymakers make good on all current commitments: food insecurity will still leave 640 million people (including 121 million children) underweight in some parts of the world, while obesity will increase by 70% globally. Food systems will continue to drive a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, which will contribute to 2.7 degrees of warming by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial periods. Food production will become increasingly vulnerable to climate change, with the likelihood of extreme events dramatically increasing.FSEC also finds that the food system can instead be a significant contributor to economies, and drive solutions to health and climate challenges. In the `Food System Transformation` pathway, economists show that by 2050 better policies and practices could lead to undernutrition being eradicated, and cumulatively 174 million lives saved from premature death due to diet-related chronic disease. Food systems could become net carbon sinks by 2040, helping to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, protecting an additional 1.4 billion hectares of land, almost halving nitrogen surplus from agriculture, and reversing biodiversity loss. Furthermore, 400 million farm workers across the globe could enjoy a sufficient income.“The cost of achieving this transformation – estimated at the equivalent of 0.2-0.4 percent of global GDP per year – is small relative to the multi-trillion dollar benefits it could bring. Food systems are a uniquely powerful means of addressing global climate, nature, and health emergencies at the same time – while offering a better life to hundreds of millions of people,” says Hermann Lotze-Campen, FSEC Commissioner and Head of Research Department “Climate Resilience” at PIK.“Rather than mortgaging our future and building up mounting costs leading to high hidden health and environmental costs that we will have to pay down the line, policymakers need to face the food system challenge head-on and make the changes which will reap huge short- and long-term benefits globally,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, PIK Director and FSEC Co-Chair. “This report should open up a much-needed conversation among key stakeholders about how we can access those benefits whilst leaving no one behind,” he concludes.Reference: “The Economics of the Food System Transformation.”

Bayer Fights String of Roundup Trial Losses Including $2.25B Verdict in Philadelphia

The Bayer Corporation has spent more than $10 billion to settle lawsuits that claim the popular weed killer Roundup causes cancer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When a Philadelphia jury awarded $2.25 billion in damages this year in a case that linked Roundup to a cable technician’s blood cancer, the verdict became the largest yet in the long-running litigation over the popular Monsanto weed killer.Corporate parent Bayer had set aside more than $10 billion in 2020 to settle about 125,000 cases, many consolidated in California. And it won a string of nine individual lawsuits that started going to trial in 2021. But the tide changed last year when juries began handing down nine- and 10-figure awards to plaintiffs who had developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma.“They try to show that non-Hodgkin lymphoma is just something that happens randomly,” said lawyer Tom Kline, who represented the Philadelphia plaintiff with co-counsel Jason Itkin. “(But) the arc of the scientific literature has turned against Monsanto in the past seven years.”Thousands of cases remain, including one under way in Delaware over a South Carolina groundskeeper's cancer death. Bayer insists the weed killer is safe, but has reformulated the version sold to consumers to remove the pesticide known as glyphosate.“Bayer will continue to try cases based on the overwhelming weight of science and the assessments of leading health and scientific regulators worldwide, including E.P.A., that support the safety and non-carcinogenicity of Roundup,” the Berlin-based company said in a statement, referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Kline argued that Bayer ignored known health risks from glyphosate to keep Roundup on the market, failing to even warn consumers to wear gloves and protective clothing when they used it. He and Itkin obtained a $175 million verdict in another Roundup case in Philadelphia last fall.Their latest client, John McKivison, told jurors in January that he used the product for 20 years — at a former warehouse job, on a deer food patch he tended at his home near Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and at the church and Little League where he volunteered. He said he mixed the concentrated version of Roundup into a spray bottle, which sometimes led to spills that soaked his skin.McKivison’s cancer is in remission but he said he fears a relapse and at 49 spends his days “worrying, wondering and waiting.”The jury awarded him $250 million in actual damages, then penciled in an additional “2 billion dollars” for punitive damages, the verdict slip shows. The jury foreman, a college librarian, declined to comment while other Roundup cases are still playing out.Bayer, in a 174-page post-trial motion filed this month, called the jury award “excessive” and the ground rules in Philadelphia courts unfair. The company, for instance, said there was no evidence McKivison had suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in actual losses.And the company continues to challenge the central claim that glyphosate causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pointing to studies that say it occurs at the same rate in Roundup users as the general population.The Roundup lawsuits took off after a branch of the World Health Organization raised concerns about glyphosate in 2015, calling it “probably carcinogenic to humans.”The EPA meanwhile says it does not pose an “unreasonable risk." A U.S. appeals court in California has ordered the agency to review that 2020 finding, while Bayer hopes to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that the EPA's stamp of approval should invalidate the state court claims.Bayer meanwhile hopes to reduce the McKivison award, noting that judges have slashed three other large verdicts. A $2 billion verdict awarded to a California couple who both got cancer was reduced to about $87 million. A $289 million verdict in the first Roundup trial was cut to $78 million and then about $20 million.Bayer, in the post-trial motion, said the McKivison judge allowed “improper and abusive cross-examinations" and let their opponents make “the gruesome and false statement that the plaintiff is under a ‘death sentence.’”Large jury awards in Philadelphia are nothing new and the city has the dubious distinction of often topping a list of “ judicial hellholes ” by the ATR Foundation, a tort reform group.However, Kline said the city jury pool is changing along with its demographics as more young professionals settle there. He said half of the 12 jurors had attended college and a few, including the foreman, had graduate degrees. Ten of them had to agree Roundup was more likely than not a cause of McKivison’s cancer to find Bayer liable.“We’re confident that the verdict is sound,” Kline said.Bayer bought St. Louis-based Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, only to see its share price tumble in the years since.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!

CONTACT US

sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.